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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Killer Germ Proves Hard To Identify

TOKYO -- Bacteriologists, scrambling to find the source of a killer germ now gripping Japan, have identified three strains of the O-157 bacteria but have yet to pinpoint exact sources, Health Ministry officials said Thursday.

At least one of the strains identified by their DNA patterns`has never before been detected in Japan and the Health Ministry's bacteriologists were still at a loss to explain the massive outbreak which has afflicted more than 9,000 patients and killed seven people.

"Our findings leave us to believe that there were at least three distinct sources of infection," said an official of the Health Ministry's Food Sanitation Division.

"But we still don't know if the different DNA patterns indicate that some strains are more powerful than others or that some cause different illnesses," the official said.

Experts have traced only three foodstuffs contaminated with the O-157 colon bacillus bacteria but the three isolated cases do not reveal the entire route of the current outbreak.

One boy came down with the germ after eating raw cow's liver, a Japanese delicacy, in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo. The germ has also been found in a lettuce salad served in school lunches in Gifu, central Japan.

And on Thursday, inspectors in the southwestern city of Fukuoka said they found the germ in cow's liver and tripe sold at shops, raising fresh alarm over the two-month epidemic.

Fukuoka inspectors found the germ in two out of a total of 45 meat samples collected at random last month from 24 meat shops, a city health official said.

In Fukuoka, 54 patients have come down with the deadly bacteria, but the inspectors said they could not trace a direct link between the patients and their findings at the meat shops. It was unclear what action had been taken against the shops where the tainted meat was found.

The epidemic prompted the government on Wednesday to start considering stringent steps by declaring the bacteria-induced illnesses to be a "designated contagious disease."